Friday, May 09, 2014

I ask not for a lighter load..

..but broader shoulders (Jewish proverb)

To be honest, broad shoulders aren't something that really runs in our family, something I found particularly disappointing as a tall and skinny teenager. Back in the 1990s I used to love watching Gladiators on Saturday evenings, and even now I could probably name most of the competitors and individual events in 1990s era Worlds Strongest Man competitions (possibly a specialist subject to keep in reserve for that Mastermind appearance). Sadly, no matter how hard I tried, I could never bench press as much as my schoolfriends, and whilst some of them bulked out to resemble Atlas, I didn't! My dad and I even spent a day casting my own set of lead weights, which were suitably heavy but so much denser than the shop bought weights my friends had they looked pathetically small by comparison - but none of them had the satisfaction of melting lead with a propane torch until molten and then pouring it into their own sand-filled moulds! (In hindsight, I've realised that many of the ways my dad expressed his love for me and my brothers and sister were unorthodox, often involving making things together in the workshop using dangerous and not so dangerous tools and techniques - as a dad myself now, I love him all the more for doing this with us).

These days I've made my peace with not being broad shouldered, but as a culture we do seem to value individual strength - only the strongest survive, survival of the fittest etc. Now I'm all for meritocracy to a degree, but I think we fool ourselves if we think that we entirely rise and fall on our own actions - life is too random for that, events happen, and a nasty flip side of the coin can creep into our thinking in which we see the poorest in our society as "losers", deserving of all that's happened to them. Unfortunately we can see this all too often in the media, and I'd recommend watching Alain De Botton's TED talk on a kinder philosophy of success, which explores this idea in more detail.

I've noticed this strength-cult in the workplace, where we're expected to be strong men and women, but in reality we can't do everything in our own strength all of the time. As I've said before, we all have different and varied strengths as individuals anyway! So often we can feel (or be made to feel) like we need to face problems alone, to prove ourself in some way. It's funny how we can perceive asking for help as a sign of weakness - especially in the workplace!

Much as I want to be able to do everything in my life in my own strength, there are times when I do feel weighed down with life, circumstances, situations and tasks. Today is a good case in point when I would gladly have wished away a situation in my workplace! Sadly, there's rarely a magic button that makes our troubles vanish and we have to learn to deal with them as best we can, as well as deal with our relationship with our troubles too.

I've never been a huge fan of assault courses. Inevitably there are sections which require good upper body strength - broad shoulders actually - where I fear I would get stuck (pull ups are another area I'm not naturally gifted in). And at times, life can feel like an assault course can't it? Army assault courses have a reputation for being fearsome, involving submerged pipes to crawl through, barbed wire to crawl under, and other tough challenges. The thing is, I'm led to believe that the toughest army assault courses require you to work as part of a unit.

I believe that it's right that our expectation of ourselves and our capacity to do things increases over time. With experience and practice our skills and knowledge increase. In that sense our shoulders do broaden over time. But in a world where it's increasingly 'every man for himself' who have you got around you? Who's sharing your load? Conversely, who's load are you helping with?

Today I was glad to have supportive colleagues to share the load - the cliché is true that a problem shared is a problem halved. Also clichéd but true is that by working together you are able to shoulder more than the amount you can each shoulder on your own. Two people working collaboratively can do more than two people's worth of work!

For those of us with faith, we believe in a God who invites us to cast our burdens on him, who isn't distant and remote but who is actively offering to stand shoulder to shoulder with us in the midst of what we're facing. We may be praying for a lighter load, but instead our shoulders can be broadened when we share our loads with God. Too often I think that I try to be Atlas, attempting to carry the world all by myself, and buckling under the weight. Increasingly I want to turn to the one who instead set the stars in their place (see Psalm 8). God isn't at our beck and call, he doesn't sprinkle fairy dust to make our lives magically easy, but he invites us to "yoke up" with him, to share our troubles and receive his peace and love. Our circumstances may not change in ways we expect (although they can and sometimes do in response to prayer), but we have a God willing to sustain us in the midst of whatever it is we're going through.

This week I've finished reading Mark Batterson's excellent book "The Circle Maker", which I've found an inspiring and encouraging read on how to share our biggest fears and dreams with God - how to place them on his shoulders. I've found it so helpful I'm planning to read it again, and I'd heartily recommend it to any of you reading this post.

Perhaps today it's time to stop asking for lighter loads, but to ask instead for extra shoulders..

Thanks for reading, and as always I welcome your comments and contributions. Please feel free to share this post with anyone who may be interested.


Anonymous said...

Good words Luke :)

Anonymous said...

Good words Luke :)